Examination of Witness

Part of National Security Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 4:20 pm on 7th July 2022.

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Dan Dolan:

Absolutely. I should start by saying that we absolutely recognise that the country’s intelligence agencies do a difficult and often dangerous job to keep us safe, and we give our evidence in recognition of that. We think clause 23 is much more likely to protect Ministers and senior officials from criminal liability than anyone in the midst of an operation overseas.

The reason why we say that is because there is already a regime, under the Intelligence Services Act 1994, under which acts that could constitute a criminal offence overseas would be authorised by a Minister if they are in the furtherance of the agencies’ duties. That is well recognised. The Minister who took that Act through described offences such as bugging, bribery and burglary, which you can imagine an officer of the intelligence agencies may need to do overseas to keep the UK safe. That regime already exists in law, and it allows for authorisation of potentially criminal acts overseas.

Clause 23 disapplies provisions of the separate Serious Crime Act 2007 relating to encouraging or assisting the commission of a crime—specifically, schedule 4, which relates to extra-territoriality, meaning crimes that would be encouraged in the UK but committed overseas. There is already a regime that protects officers of the UK who are involved in operations overseas and do things that may be criminal by giving them insulation from criminal liability.

Clause 23 insulates people from criminal liability for acts undertaken in the UK to encourage or assist offences overseas. Realistically, we are talking about conduct that might take place, for example, behind a desk in Whitehall, but would ultimately result in what would be a criminal offence overseas. There is an existing legal regime to cover offences of those who undertake them outside the country; this is about actions taken within the country, if that makes sense.